Researching Businesses: Tips from the Muse Law Library

Are you working in a summer job that may require you to research businesses? If so, you might want to check out three free resources—the SEC’s EDGAR database, the Virginia State Corporation Commission’s business entity databases, and the Census Business Builder. Maureen Moran, a Reference and Research Services Librarian at Richmond Law, has put together a helpful Q&A on these resources. 

Resource #1: The EDGAR Database

  • What is the EDGAR database?

    EDGAR is the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s massive filings database. This is the Big Daddy of corporate information resources, and it’s all freely available at here.   

  • What kind of information does EDGAR include?

    You can find a wealth of information on publicly traded U.S. corporations, which are required to file disclosures about their profits, losses, trades, key personnel, investigations, and other events that can affect their performance and share value. Because public corporations are required to file disclosures on both a regular basis and when something of significance has happened, almost anything you want to know about a corporation will be found in its EDGAR filings. Need to know how a corporation performed over time? Check the filings on EDGAR. Need to know how a corporation responded to a federal investigation into its CEO? Check the filings on EDGAR. Need to know how a corporation carved out its niche in its industry? Check its growth as reflected in its filings on EDGAR.

  • How do I find company information in EDGAR?
    Go here and search for the relevant company by name. A company search will bring up all of the company’s Form 10-Ks and 10-Qs (i.e. annual and quarterly filings), as well as other required filings.
  • How can I learn how to use EDGAR?
    Use the links on the About page to view tutorials on how to use EDGAR, get search tips, learn about the history of the database, reach EDGAR support, or view EDGAR comments. And don’t forget the FAQ!

Resource #2: Business Research Tools Through the Virginia State Corporation Commission

  • What is the Virginia State Corporation Commission?
    The Virginia SCC is a state agency with regulatory authority over many business and economic interests in Virginia. If you want to form a new business or research an existing Virginia business, you should start with the SCC’s website.
  • What information does the SCC offer for attorneys seeking to form a new business in Virginia?
    The New Business Resources page has links to resources for entity formation, docket searching, and records examination.  The Clerk’s Information System allows you to search for available entity names, reserve a name, and form a business entity. Additional resources provide information about fees, filing requirements and documents, types of business entities, entity-formation checklists and other information you’ll need to start a business. 
  • How can you search for information about existing businesses on the SCC’s website?
    The Clerk’s Information System also allows you to research existing businesses. You can find out a business’s principal address, the name of certain officers, its registered agent, and whether the business is in good standing. 
  • How can you find out about administrative judicial matters handled by the SCC?
    The SCC’s website provides access to a docket search for filings relating to administrative judicial matters before the SCC – everything from hearings to letters to rulings to settlement agreements can be accessed through the links at the top of the screen. You can search by case information, keyword, recent filings, calendar, daily filings, or “doclog,” which is the docket for the commission’s administrative law proceedings. This can be incredibly helpful if you need help locating information about how the SCC interprets laws and regulations; keep in mind that it also regulates insurance and public utilities when you’re constructing your search.

Resource #3: Census Business Builder

  • What is the Census Business Builder?
    The Census Business Builder is a tool provided by the United States Census Bureau that takes demographic and economic data collected by the Census Bureau in both the Decennial Census and the 5-year American Community Survey and presents it to business users in an easy-to-use, accessible format tailored to their needs. There are two versions of the tool, a Small Business Edition geared to small business owners, and a Regional Analyst Edition, geared to chambers of commerce and regional planning staff.
  • What kind of information does the Census Business Builder include?
    Each edition provides key economic and demographic data to the user to help make better decisions about the size and nature of the relevant market. Users can select by location and type of business to research, create interactive maps and browse and download data about the selected area and type of business. Because the Census Bureau has collected this data for decades and even centuries, users can get an accurate picture of how demographic and economic trends have shaped an area or type of business over time, and generate reports that can be incorporated into competitive intelligence research and business plans. The latest version even incorporates data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics on employment and wages. All that, and it’s optimized to be used on a phone or tablet.
  • How do I learn how to use the Census Business Builder?
    The website has a series of instructional flyers, webinars, and an FAQ.
  • What other resources might I find through the Census website that might be helpful for my business clients?
    There is SO much to explore! Try Infographics and Visualizations, Browse by Topic (see Business and Economy or International Trade), Surveys and Programs (Annual Business Survey, Annual Survey of Manufacturers, County Business Patterns, etc.), Library (Working Papers, Fact Sheets, etc.), and Find a Code (lets you look up the North American Industry Classification System code for a particular industry, which is invaluable for researching markets). Be sure to bookmark your favorite sites so you can find them again, because the federal government’s data resources are vast – and for that matter, don’t overlook data.gov!